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The State at war

Les mises en guerre de l'État

The First World War in perspective

La première guerre mondiale en perspective

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Published on Wednesday, October 08, 2014


À partir de l’été 1914, les sociétés européennes paraissent brutalement saisies par la guerre et, ce faisant, saisies par l’État. C’est en son nom que des millions d'hommes vont s'affronter, sous l'uniforme, et que s’opère une gigantesque « mobilisation » des corps, des esprits et des ressources, pour reprendre le terme de l’époque toujours employé par les historiens. Cent ans plus tard, alors que tous les États ayant fait la guerre ou en étant issus lancent de vastes programmes de commémoration, le moment est bienvenu pour étudier comment l’État parvient à faire la guerre et, en retour, ce que la guerre fait à l’État. Dans le cadre de cette vaste question, ce colloque international et pluridisciplinaire (histoire, science politique, sociologie) s’intéresse aux mises en guerre de l’État. Sont observés des éventuelles ruptures ou des ajustements limités, mais toujours des situations de passages liées à la situation de guerre.



From the summer of 1914, European societies seem brutally seized by war and, as a consequence, seized by the State. In the name of the State, millions of men enrolled in the armed forces are to fight one another. Bodies, minds and resources are subjected to a gigantic “mobilization”, a contemporary word still used by historians. A hundred years later, when all the warring States, as well as the States that were born from the conflict, are launching ambitious commemorative programs, the moment seems well chosen to study how the State wages war and, in return, how war transforms the State. As part of this vast topic, this international and multidisciplinary (history, political science, sociology) conference will address the invention of the War State, from the perspective of all the processes through which the event  has – or does not have – an impact on the organisation, actions and conduct of the public power.  The aim is to identify potential changes or limited adjustments, but always within situations of transition born from the conflict.

The reflection on the invention of the War State will be limited to detailed case studies, backed up by precise empirical research. Studies are expected to describe precisely, within well-defined confines, how things happen in the most concrete way, and to examine the conditions of possibility at work. Ideas, laws or theoretical debates of all sorts will above all be approached through the evaluation of their implementation or results.

In this perspective, the analysis of the setting up or the development of a particular instrument or organisation will be especially appreciated: a postal censorship office in France, a recruitment centre in Great Britain, a military district in Germany, or a military jail, a supply office, a field hospital, a  minister’s private office, etc. It will also be important to broach the subject of institutions located more or less at the margins of civil service (a chamber of commerce, a trade union, a diocese or a Masonic lodge, etc.), since the war may increase their functional or symbolic proximity to the state.

The observation of the State at that level will make it possible to appreciate the extent to which norms and procedures were invented and adjusted (definition of nationalities, states’ control over bodies through identification of individuals, military methods of organisation…), changes in personnel were implemented (the 1914 dismissals of French generals, the hurried replacements of the civil servants that left for the front, the recruiting and the growing specialization of experts, etc.), conflicts of authority unravelled and were arbitrated (between civil and military powers, for example, or from top to bottom of administrative hierarchies).

The State will be understood in the largest sense to mean all forms of public power. First, because the central state as the French know it is only one of its possible forms. Approaches that allow the study of other national situations as well as of other types of States (multinational, federal, imperial, etc.), possibly using a comparative approach, will consequently be most welcome. Second because, as the aim of the conference is to collect studies that are as close as possible to concrete realities, local powers (city councils, for example), are part of the considered field of study. The conference will endeavour to observe the State on all scales and on all the different types of territories it covers: from town to country, from rear to front, army zone, occupied territories, colonies, etc. Finally, as mentioned above, the conference will examine how the scope of public action changes in the context of a widened public sphere, revealing the importance of what lies at its margins (all sorts of organisations or institutions which are officially recognized as beneficial to the public) and will lead to reconsider the line between the “public” and “private” sectors.

In line with a previous scientific event centred on the 1917 mutinies, the conference will focus on 1914-1918 but will also be largely open to paper proposals about other 19th and 20th century conflicts that could put the subject into perspective. Besides, even though the inaugural moment of the entry into the war is favoured by definition, no later time limit is set, since the process of adapting to war situations can take up a long period of time, or even be postponed after the entry into the war (such as, the 1916, the implementation of conscription in the United Kingdom or of the auxiliary service law in Germany). That is why the study of the invention of a War State goes further than the beginnings of the conflict: it can cover longer periods, extending before the war (the extension of conscription in France as early as 1905 or 1913) as well as after (the end of the war cycle of print production around 1923). It raises the question of the durability of mechanisms or institutions that were designed in a hurry by the States, of their lasting or transient nature, and of the way methods and measures born from the conflict can be reused, redesigned or made durable (medical check-ups for factory workers from 1916, broadened after the war to the whole industrial world).

This conference, largely open in space and time around the focus point of 1914 and based on well-defined studies, will investigate a fact that seems evident, at least in France: the State’s remarkable capacity to take charge of a whole society, almost overnight.  Is the intensification of the State’s hold on society immediate or gradual, continuous or discontinuous? Are there slower phases, failures? Is it paralleled with a loss of influence in other areas? Is it possible to detect forms of resistance or avoidance, while refraining from all generalizations and risky extrapolations?


  • L’Institut historique allemand (IHA) - 8 Rue du Parc Royal
    Paris, France (75003)
  • Amphithéatre de la Chambre d'agriculture - 1 Rue René Blondelle,
    Laon, France (02)
  • Mairie de Craonne
    Craonne, France (02)


  • Thursday, October 30, 2014
  • Friday, October 31, 2014
  • Saturday, November 01, 2014

Attached files


  • guerre, État, 1914-1918, première guerre mondiale


  • sylvain Bertschy
    courriel : bertschy [dot] sylvain [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • sylvain Bertschy
    courriel : bertschy [dot] sylvain [at] gmail [dot] com


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« The State at war », Conference, symposium, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, October 08, 2014, https://doi.org/10.58079/r1r

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